Da Vinci Code, The

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/03/06 06:07:21

"Has the material for a great Scrooge McDuck adventure."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

The trouble with "The Da Vinci Code", at least as a movie, isn't that it advances a theory that could rub the religious the wrong way. After all, if a person's faith can't handle a hypothetical scenario in a work of fiction, then it's probably not doing them a lot of good. The problem is that said idea is all the movie has, and the process of finding it out isn't terribly exciting.

It opens with Dr. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), an internationally renowned expert in the field of symbolic anthropology or something like that being called to a crime scene in the Louvre to help decode a set of cryptic markings found near a body. As he does so, though, Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), a detective with the French equivalent of the FBI, informs him that he's not considered an expert, but a suspect. The murdered man was her grandfather, and she thinks the detective in charge, Bezu Fache (Jean Reno), is barking up the wrong tree, so she helps him escape and follow the clue to the real killer - Silas (Paul Bettany), an albino religious zealot. But who is he an agent for?

Sounds like it should be an exciting chase, no? They'll run to Langdon's mentor, Sir Leigh Teabing (Sir Ian McKellen), and from a conservative Catholic bishop (Alfred Molina), crisscross Europe, learn the true mission of the Knights Templar, and solve puzzles that will expose something that's been covered up for centuries. But the excitement of being just one step ahead of the other people looking for this forbidden knowledge is noticeably absent; there's but a single chase scene and that feels like it was edited by easily-distracted monkeys, and for most of the movie, "action" means Silas hitting himself. Indiana Jones, this is not. Heck, this isn't even Scrooge McDuck.

After all, even though an Uncle Scrooge story from the pen of Carl Barks or Don Rosa features nearly as much research and citing of relatively unknown history as The Da Vinci Code (if not more), it's not nearly so dour and humorless an affair. What little joy of discovery exists in this film comes from McKellen's retired professor, and he doesn't show up until halfway through the film. In the meantime, Hanks and Tautou grimly soldier through the puzzles they must solve, and by the time they come upon the big revelation, it feels like nothing more than the solution to a grisly murder. Although we're repeatedly told that for many people, this could change everything and cause turmoil, we never really see the scope of it - it feels like this one rogue bishop with his weird psychopath; it doesn't really feel like Langdon and Neveu are up against an ancient conspiracy with global reach.

Director Ron Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (working from Dan Brown's novel) try; there's the occasional historic flashback, but the way these segments are shot makes them look unreal. It's all washed-out and grainy, twice as likely to make the audience feel like they're watching something artificial as the rest of the film. The fervor of the conspirators also seems more than a little excessive - when the secret society mentions DNA testing, I was sort of wondering what that would prove. How much DNA would someone actually share with his or her great-to-the-hundredth-power-grandparent? Think of it - half your DNA comes from your mother, one quarter from her mother, one eighth from hers... Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and I found myself unconvinced that extraordinary evidence existed within the story.

The film assembles a pretty decent cast for a series of relatively bland roles. Hanks delivers a decent lecture, but he's given little to actually do; it's a mistake to specify his character as having a near-eidetic memory, because it means that he can't even frantically write stuff down and rearrange letters when he's solving a code; he just sort of stands there. I've never been a fan of Audrey Tautou in her freaky elf roles, but without that shtick here, she's just a generic, kind of pretty French girl. Jean Reno gives off the veteran competence that seems to be his stock in trade in English-language roles, Alfred Molina is barely there, and Paul Bettany at least does a good job of looking psychotic. I'm not sure how much of a compliment it is to say that he's successfully drained any traces of individual humanity out of his character. You could say that Ian McKellen steals his scenes and the movie, but, really, they're handed to him.

"The Da Vinci Code" is two and a half hours of not getting any mileage out of a big idea. If the center of your movie is an earth-shaking secret, well, you might be well-advised to spend some of that time shaking the earth.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.